Sen Ford resigns, case sent to AG's office

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP/WCIV) - The Senate Ethics Committee has forwarded the ethics case against Sen. Robert Ford to the attorney general's office.

The committee found overwhelming evidence Friday to support allegations that the Charleston Democrat violated eight sections of South Carolina's ethics law. Its final order calls for the immediate transfer of all supporting documents to Attorney General Alan Wilson.

South Carolina Senate Republican Caucus announced earlier Friday that Ford had resigned his position. Senate President Pro Tem John Courson announced Friday that he received a resignation letter from the Charleston Democrat, effective immediately.

The resignation comes a day after the Senate Ethics Committee heard that the specific charges against Ford included allegations that he used campaign money for adult-store purchases and other personal items. Ford said Thursday he bought gag gifts at those stores for campaign staffers.

Ford says they were gifts for people who helped with his campaigns. He accused committee chairman Luke Rankin of trying to make him look like a crook.

He's accused of using campaign donations for personal expenses, misrepresenting his spending, failing to report numerous expenses, donations and personal loans, and then trying to cover it up.

Attorney William Runyon blames Ford's problems on sloppy bookkeeping by a citizen lawmaker.

Runyon said the Charleston Democrat would not attend the second day of his ethics hearing due to health problems.

He said Ford was admitted to Palmetto Health Baptist with chest pains around 8 p.m. Thursday and stayed overnight. Ford was discharged Friday morning following tests.

Runyon says the 64-year-old senator has cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure, and Thursday's hearing was very stressful for him.

The South Carolina Democratic Party released this statement from Chairman Jaime Harrison:

"Today marks a sad chapter for our state and the legacy of Sen. Robert Ford.{} Throughout his career, Sen. Ford had been a tireless advocate for his constituents and champion for civil rights. Nonetheless, all leaders should be held accountable for any ethical wrongdoing regardless of party and office.

"The Senate ethics investigation was thorough and appropriate, and Sen. Ford was right to resign. Now, just as the Senate investigated Sen. Ford, so too should the House look into the mountain of evidence against Speaker Bobby Harrell for similarly using his campaign account for personal expenses.

"This culture of corruption in South Carolina has to stop. Elected officials who use their campaign accounts for personal purposes hurt the reputation of our great state and feed into mistrust of the state government. We have to drain the swamp and restore people's faith once again."

The committee essentially did what Ford's attorney asked by sending the case over without levying fines. William Runyon asked Ford's colleagues to show mercy, considering Ford's resignation half-way into his hearing.

The committee went into executive session to consider the possible penalties.

Chairman Luke Rankin of Conway says the resignation was an honorable thing that lifted a heavy burden from his colleagues.

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